What a strange four weeks to start the season. The bullpen is a mess, the offense inconsistent, and we are already looking to Toledo for starting pitching options. Yet the Tigers are in first place and on pace for 93 wins, matching expectations. The other Central Division teams have played up to five more games. Soon we could have one of those strange situations where the Tigers are in first or second place depending on whether you go by winning percentage or games back.
The Tigers made a bunch of personnel changes for the season. How do they look so far?
Catcher: Brayan Pena had a career year in 2013. He has started half the Reds' games and maintained good production with the Reds, slashing .286 / .359 / .371 with a 104 OPS+. Bryan Holaday is hitting .235 with no walks or extra-base hits, for an OPS+ of 29.
First Base / Third Base: Prince Fielder was supposed to benefit from Texas' right field porch and warm weather. Instead he is struggling with a .216 batting average and only 2 home runs leading to a below average 88 OPS+. Nick Castellanos is slashing .258 / .306 / .439 with a 101 OPS+. The difference in bWAR is half a win. The difference in salary is already $3.5 million, just based on games played.
Second Base: Omar Infante has returned to normal in Kansas City hitting .265 / .330 / .349. With pitching dominating the league, and his strong defense, that is good for 0.7 bWAR. Ian Kinsler is hitting .278 / .313 / .411, good for 0.6 bWAR.
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta had a one-dimensional start to the season in St. Louis with four home runs and a .175 batting average. The Tigers have zero home runs from the position, so Peralta is still half a win better than Gonzalez / Romine / Worth. Ramon Santiago would have fit right into the shortstop mess had he stayed in Detroit, hitting .143 with no power for Cincinnati.
Left Field: Tui is playing in Triple-A Buffalo for Toronto, slashing .188 / .312 / .250. Rajai Davis has a completely unexpected .353 / .416 / .471 line. The difference is one win.
Center / Right Field: Avisail Garcia was hard to give up and had a good 8 game start for the White Sox slashing .267 / .353 / .467. Now he is out for the season. The Tigers would not have likely signed Davis had they kept Garcia, so this move helped for now.
Starting Pitching: Doug Fister made his first start yesterday. Too bad it was in Potomac. Robbie Ray may make his first start in Detroit about the same time that Fister starts his first game for the Nationals.
Relief Pitching: Joaquin Benoit has appeared in 9 games but only finished 1 for the Padres. He does well in the setup role with an ERA of 2.08, and peripherals that suggest it is not a fluke. On the other hand, Jose Veras has an ERA of 15.88 for the Cubs with 10 walks in less than 6 innings. Veras hit the disabled list over the weekend. Darin Downs is back in Triple-A, now with Houston. Jose Alvarez made three unimpressive starts in Triple-A but was called up to the Angels anyway. Brayan Villareal is in Triple-A Pawtucket with 6 walks in 4 innings. Jose Valverde has thrown over 10 innings for the Mets, closing 8 games. With an ERA of 5.23, FIP of 6.96, and WHIP of 1.55 I have no idea what they are thinking.
And by the way, though he was last in Detroit in 2012, Adam Wilk is back from Korea and is striking out nearly 9 per 9 innings with a WHIP of 1.15 in Triple-A for Pittsburgh. I hope he finally gets the chance he deserves.
The Tigers made many roster moves, and so far they have spent less to win more. The main question is shortstop, and would we really want Peralta and his baggage back?